22 October 2011

Sword into ploughshares

I'm receiving a number of responses to Thursday's "Sic gloria transit Qaddafi" post. Most of them, as with my "shades of grey" post back in April, have been disagreeing with me in both directions ... and often by the same people, all of whose opinions I deeply respect and to a greater or lesser extent share.

Geoff Powell, for example, writes:

Once again we rejoice over our equally barbaric behaviour.
Once again we have created mayhem for money.
Now, if the patterns of the past are followed, all the stupid greedy people will fight over the spoils. Aided by us of course - our "private" army in Iraq.
I feel deeply ashamed and aplogise to those we shred.
It does sicken me the way our "leaders" - squeaky shiny clean school boys - are but puppets of the money makers and brain wash the "plebs" who will bleat away in front of the "telly" soaps and shite and will bleat to the drum of stupidity. No wonder I feel somewhat alone in this madness.

I agree with much of that. The trouble is, there are other considerations.

I'll start by looking back to last April. Can I, hand on heart, having seen the death and destruction which has occurred in the intervening six months, say that it would have been better to let Qaddafi and his regime inflict even greater genocidal carnage on his civilian population, not only during that time but on into the future? Answer: no, can't.

I don't doubt that the motives for intervention were (to put it generously) mixed. But that doesn't alter the fact that if the intervention hadn't happened, the ongoing toll across a range from torture to loss of life would have been even greater ... and continuing still. Neither Britain's David Cameron nor France's Nicolas Sarkozi are figures to whom I can give my political support; but in a situation where there were no right choices, and every possible course of action would be murky and dishonourable, I am forced to confess that I think they made the choice which was least despicable.

What choices they make next is a different matter, for which they must be held to separate account.

This was not analogous to Iraq, which I condemn without reservation. In Libya, popular uprising had already started. It was, perhaps, more analogous to Kosovo: an intervention to protect a population from massacre which I also supported on principle, though the means (air strikes against urban infrastructures in Belgrade rather than against the forces conducting the massacres) I could not.

I am sickened by what has happened since April; but I would be even more sickened if we had turned our backs and let even worse occur.

On, now, to the present, and the manner of Qaddafi's death, on which Geoff says:

From Robert Fisk in "The Independent" –

" It's an ill wind, etc. Today my thoughts are not with the Gaddafi family but with Bassam and Saniya al-Ghossain, whose daughter Raafat was killed in Libya on 15 April 1986.

She was the victim of President Reagan's insane air raids on Tripoli – in revenge for the killing of an American serviceman in Berlin, by a bomb planted by one of Gaddafi's lunatics. I was present at her funeral in Libya and have got to know her parents very well over the years since then. They are among my best friends in Beirut. I had lunch with them yesterday. And do you know what Saniya said about Gaddafi's violent demise? "I am against these things. I am against all murder and killing."

I feel the same way; the mentally ill ( have I ever met a sane person in my life older than a few days/weeks ? ) should be cared for not brutally treated

In principle, again, I absolutely agree. I cannot, sitting here in a comfortable first world liberal democracy armchair, condone what seems to have happened.

But ... in practice ... nor can I put my hand on my heart and say that, if I were a Libyan citizen rebel, pumped up by adrenalin, brutalised by combat, astonished to still be alive after a firefight, perhaps the sole survivor of a family killed or worse by Qaddafi's regime, I might not in the heat of the moment have behaved just as badly.

It would have been better if Qaddafi had been arrested, and at least brought to trial if not placed in a place of care for the mentally ill. But, at the same time, it was nobody but he and his supporters who created the situation which led to his end on Thursday. “As ye sow, so shall ye reap”, as Jermiah 23 has it ... or, switching to Matthew 26, “all who take the sword will perish by the sword”. I'm not given to biblical quotations, normally, but those two do describe reality. Alas, they don't stop at description of murderous dictators; they describe what follows the downfall of those murderous dictators, too. Libya has now to turn away from the sword, and sow peace, if it is to move on into a better world than Qaddafi's. The madness which Qaddafi created, and which killed him on a road in Sirte,has to end with his death if Libya is not to become another Zimbabwe. What has happened up to now is, in my opinion though not in Geoff's, down to Qaddafi; what happens next, for good or for ill, is down to those (in Libya and outside it) who have deposed him.

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